Golf: Tiger fires one-over 73 in return from 16-month layoff

Woods walks off the fourth tee after hitting his tee shot during round one.
Woods walks off the fourth tee after hitting his tee shot during round one.PHOTO: AFP

NASSAU, Bahamas (AFP) - Showing flashes of the form that made him a 14-time major champion before stumbling late, Tiger Woods fired a one-over-par 73 on Thursday (Dec 1) at the Hero World Challenge in his long-awaited return to competition.

Woods, who has missed 16 months following back surgery, reeled off three consecutive birdies to share the lead at four under after his first eight holes of the 18-man invitational event he hosts in the Bahamas.

But Woods went five over from there and a closing double bogey left him nine strokes adrift of leader J.B. Holmes.

Fomer world number one Woods, who has fallen to 898th in the rankings, birdied the par-5 third and sixth, par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth holes at 7,302-yard Albany Golf Club in his first competitive round since August 2015.

On the par-5 ninth, the course’s longest hole at 603 yards, Woods sent his tee shot into tall weeds and sand left of the fairway, botched a chip and took the first bogey of his comeback.

Another par-5 bogey came at 11 and while Woods birdied the par-5 15th, he found a double-bogey disaster at the par-4 16th and pulled his tee shot into the water to set up his woes at the last.

Woods, playing alongside fellow American Patrick Reed in often windy conditions, ended his longest career layoff after 466 days.

Clad in black shirt, pants, cap and shoes, Woods found the left rough on his first shot but put his approach 15 feet from the hole and tapped in for an opening par.

Woods went over a raised green at the par-5 third hole but chipped to 18 inches and tapped in for his comeback’s first birdie.

Woods blasted his tee shot at the par-5 sixth 320 feet, giving him 275 to the hole. His second shot landed in the rough but he chipped to eight feet and sank the putt.

Revealing a bald spot on the back of his head when removing his cap to wipe sweat, Woods appeared fit and swung with comfort and ease.

Woods sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh and followed with a two-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth before his stumble at nine, a hole he eagled with a 12-foot putt in a pro-am Wednesday.

Woods found sand left and right of the fairway at the par-5 11th and took a bogey. At the par-3 12th, Woods missed an eight-foot birdie putt but made a tense comeback par putt half as long.

Off the 14th tee, Woods found sand left of the green, then blasted over it into a bunker. His third shot found the fringe of the green but he sank a clutch 15-foot par putt, pumping his right fist even before the ball fell into the cup.

At the par-5 15th, Woods gave himself a 10-foot eagle putt but rolled it two feet past the cup and settled for birdie.

A poor iron shot at the par-4 16th found sandy weeds, forcing him to blast out and his fourth shot went over the green on his way to double bogey.

At 18, Woods found water left of the fairway and while his par chip hit the flagstick, it then rolled 15 feet away and he two-putted for 73.

Woods, who turns 41 on December 30, had not played competitively since he shared 10th at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, in August 2015. It’s his best result since the start of 2014.

Woods, whose 79 career titles are three shy of Sam Snead’s PGA record, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.